A new method of ultrasound is being developed to examine soft tissue, including tendons and ligaments. Ray Vanderby, MS, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison), is commercializing an ultrasound technique that can analyze the condition of soft tissue. The method was created as a result of insight from Hirohito Kobayashi, Vanderby’s former PhD student, who “had an analytical insight into the way waves propagate,” according to Vanderby. Vanderby adds, “I work in orthopedics, so we developed equations that describe the physics of sound waves in living tissue.”

Vanderby has patented the resulting processes through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, which has licensed the technology to Echometrix, according to a UW-Madison news release. Echometrix is a start-up created by Vanderby and Kobayashi in 2007. The UW-Madison news release notes that the Echometrix software begins where the ultrasound machines “leaves off,” interpreting the images image that is the machine’s output. Vanderby states, “We can put this software on a laptop and use images from any ultrasound instrument.”

In ligaments and tendons, stiffness changes are dependent on whether tissue is intact, healing, or damaged. Vanderby explains, “We can measure from the ultrasound image how physically compromised it is.” The software was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2012 and is presently being used in human studies to monitor treatment of injuries to hand tendons, the Achilles tendon, and the plantar fascia.

A news report from Science Daily notes that by producing images that immediately map and quantify damage, Vanderby hopes the Echometrix software can measure the pace of healing and identify the best therapies. However, examining ligaments and tendons are not the only applications of this technology. Vanderby asserts, “We believe any stressed soft tissue could have the same physical behavior, so we could use this same technology to detect a change—for example, in tumors or in atherosclerosis, where stiffness indicates degradation of the blood vessel.”

Vanderby states, “Ultrasound can be used in a dynamic fashion; you can see how it behaves when the tissue is loaded. It’s cheap, and it can be done at the point of care.” He adds, “In hindsight, this information has been there all along. We just had the insight to figure out how to interpret it.”

[Sources: University of Wisconsin-Madison, Science Daily]